Category Archives: Friends

The difficulty of finding friends

The past six weeks have been one deadline after another, which is my poor excuse for not blogging. I will say that my GoFundMe total is just over $2,000 although it doesn’t look that way on the GFM site. But kind individuals have privately sent contributions (that don’t get 7% taken off of them as happens on the site), so I have enough money – 25% of the total – to at least get started. Thank you, all.

Veeka relaxing in her new mermaid-shaped blanket she got for Christmas.

During the past two months, I’ve been substituting at local schools twice a week. Recently, I was teaching a class on primes and Eratosthenes’ sieve. The weird phrases kids have to muddle through with this Common Core curriculum include “identify the factors and product represented in an array” and “solve using the standard algorithm or the distributive property with a number band.” This was for FOURTH grade.
Christmas and New Year’s here was quiet; the first time my father has not been with us. This has been my grimmest year in terms of deaths of friends and acquaintances. Including my dad, there were six. One friend was 43 and two were in their 50s. All had cancer. An old friend from my Portland community days died at the age of 69. My mother keeps on saying that I’m at the age where my friends will start to die and sadly, she’s right.
I am in an à la recherché du temps perdu mood these days. Saw two interesting articles in the Seattle Times about why the natives are moving out and WHY the natives are fleeing. The comment sections in both are worth working through as many of them identify feelings I’ve been having for the past year re Seattle being not the place I once knew. One person talked about moving to the area in the late 1970s, renting an apartment for $220/month and there only being two rush hours. Serious crime was rare, people were friendly and there were actually Republicans (albeit moderates) in office. Sales tax was 5.4 percent.

This Flickr photo by Robert Martin shows the annual Christmas tree lights atop the Space Needle.

Now….(and I quote the writer) you  have traffic standstills at all hours in both directions, a U district to University Place drive in rush hour is way past 2 hours, drivers are rude, the sales tax has almost doubled and yet the services are no better. Politically, there is no opposition to one-party rule, political correctness has bred an arrogance, the friendly underbelly of the area has gone, crime is up, the gas tax has now about the highest in the nation but the roads are not equivalent to the price we pay, homelessness is accepted as a God-given right, no thought is given to how plan for growth (just throw up condos and the city collects more tax money), and yes, there is a bigoted side of the far left “progressives” that now inhabit King County at a far greater rate than they used to.  There is vile hatred of any non-far left viewpoint. There is no such thing as a “mainstream’ democrat like Scoop Jackson left.
I have to agree. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in DC, although at least there, people dressed nicely! One thing I did do recently was attend a banquet where Mike Huckabee was speaking. Someone gave me a free night of babysitting and told me to find an event to attend, so I heard of this pro-life dinner downtown. Huckabee was cool and he opened with saying he was bringing “a huge welcome from the basket of deplorables in the Midwest.” We all laughed ruefully. He brought up the “child is just an extension of the mother” argument that one hears from organizations like Planned Parenthood. But if that were true, he said, wouldn’t it always have the same DNA and blood type? (Of course we know that children have different blood types. I’m an O-, which neither of my parents are. Blood banks like me because O- is the universal donor and only 9% of the population has it.)

Mike Huckabee at the pro-life dinner in downtown Seattle.

Anyway, it was an interesting crowd and filled with the sort of folks one doesn’t ordinarily run into in this area. One of the speakers asked if there were any elected officials present. Seeing no one raise a hand, he said, “It takes real courage to run for office as a pro-lifer in the Sodom and Gomorrah that is the Pacific Northwest.” There are other places I’d apply the S&G label to faster than Seattle and Portland but it was nice to encounter people who are at least aware of local issues and politics.
I am still going through my scrapbooks and running across memories from high school in the halcyon Seattle of the mid-70s. When I was a senior, I organized Redmond High School’s first road rally, which amazingly got tons of students, faculty and local merchants involved. We even got a write-up in the local paper and even though it was raining heavily, 45 participants helped us raise $100 for the senior class (which was big money in those days). It took place on Oct. 6, 1973, and I plotted out the entire 33-mile route. Not bad, considering my parents wouldn’t let me drive until I was 17.
When my brother Rob accompanied me at one point, we got into a car accident on Avondale Road. (He didn’t see the stop sign, which WAS hidden). I came across a sheet of committee assignments that I’d typed up and I must say, I’m still impressed by my organizational gifts that were just starting to blossom. The road rally stunt helped get me chosen as Girl of the Month by the local Kiwanis.

Veeka strikes a pose while at the annual Christmas lights display at Warm Beach. It was in the 20ºFs, so we didn’t last long.

I also found photos from the July 1973 bicycle trip I took (with 32 other kids) that was sponsored by two Evangelical Covenant churches: Newport and Highland, both in Bellevue. We rode some 220 miles, with stops in Monroe, Lake Stevens, Mt. Vernon, La Conner, then to the Anacortes ferry which we took for 2 days of R&R on Lopez Island. Then took the ferry to Whidbey Island where we stayed at Fort Casey (which is filled with lots of World War II bunkers). Then rode to the Mulkiteo ferry, which we took back to the mainland. Spent the night in Everett, then biked home that afternoon. We appeared (and stayed at) Covenant churches and campgrounds along the way.  A magazine article I wrote about the trip for the Covenant Companion was my first published piece. That experience got me started on long-distance biking. The following summer, I biked with that same group to Victoria (BC) and a few years later, I was with a group that biked 800 miles from Washington, DC to Lexington, Ky., for the Bicentennial.
In high school, we had just moved to Seattle from Maryland, where there was so much social ferment. It even affected the Episcopal church we attended in Severna Park, which was close to Annapolis. I found a letter in the scrapbooks from a friend explaining she had left St. Martins (as had numerous other families) because of its emphasis on politics. The Episcopal church got really into the anti-war movement during that time period. What they missed was the burgeoning Jesus movement that was also happening. I returned to that church when I was a junior in high school and challenged the priest as to why, after 5 years there, I had not heard about the Jesus I encountered later in Young Life at Redmond High School. He felt the message had been there but I had not heard it. I didn’t challenge him at the time, but actually, the message wasn’t there. My scrapbook was filled with all the Young Life notices that I designed and helped pass out to other students.
Every so often I return to that world. There was a place out Union Hill Road that we called “Lewises” that had these wonderful Saturday night prayer meetings that everyone went to in the 70s. Tom and Gay Lewis, the couple who founded it, now have Thursday night meetings at their place, which Veeka and I have occasionally attended. They have lovely potlucks beforehand and the property is on a wonderful patch of woods that Veeka loves to wander around, provided she doesn’t encounter the local panther who prowls about. Other than the Lewises themselves, none of my old friends are there. I’ve had to make new friends during our now 17 months here and I can count them on the fingers of one hand. I drive along the freeways here and am so happy to see mountain ranges. And it is so nice to be close to family after 30+ years of living elsewhere. But if I want to be near good friends, I have to drive to Portland. But it beats flying there, as I used to have to do.

A wedding in Montreal

Mount Rainier from the north. The Sunrise visitor center is below

Mount Rainier from Sourdough Ridge to the north. The Sunrise visitor center is below.

Summer is passing all too quickly and last week, Veeka and I ran off to a place on Mt. Rainier called Sunrise. The walk along a ridge near the visitor center was outstanding, as one is looking directly at this huge mountain right THERE. I’m cramming in trips to this mountain this summer, as the national parks system was handing out free year-long parks passes last year to all fourth graders, so we snapped one up. It runs out at the end of August, though. It was such a clear, beautiful day and the only downside were lots of bugs.
Early the next morning, we got on a plane for Montreal to attend the wedding of Laurie Vuoto, a longtime friend. We also sampled the delights of getting stranded due to United cancelling our flight. About Laurie: she moved to Arizona four years for a new job and also hoping she’d meet The One and last Saturday, she and Richard Horton made it official. It was a pull-out-the-stops affair. The ceremony was at Montreal’s oldest Catholic church right on the St. Lawrence River (convenient for the early fur traders). As Laurie pulled up in her limo, the bells started to ring – a lovely custom – and her brother-in-law told me she started to weep at that point with sheer happiness and with the

Laurie descending the staircase from her home to the limo that's taking her to the wedding.

Laurie descending the staircase from her home to the limo that’s taking her to the wedding.

realization that her dreams were finally coming true. Veeka and I were seated in the second row and while watching the ceremony, got called in to help amuse a very restless flower girl in the first pew. Then another inviteé pulled out an IPad and said flower girl was instantly captivated.
I was introduced to a nice custom with Italian weddings (the bride was the daughter of Italian immigrants and half the folks at the reception were speaking Italian) where there’s a 4-hour break in the action between the ceremony and the reception. That allows the bride and groom to take photos and the guests to take an afternoon snooze before a long evening party. We appreciated the break as well, although finding the venue for the reception on Ile Bîzard (Montreal is built on a series of islands) was quite difficult because of all the summertime road repairs. It was one of those sit-down dinners with party favors shaped like Cinderella’s carriage and six or seven courses, followed by an open bar and a huge desert table that was wheeled out around 11 pm. By then, I could not shove down one more morsel. There was a lot of dancing, a band, a guest opera singer and slide shows showing highlights from the couple’s courtship.
It was a lovely affair, considering the mess we had getting there. Our connecting flight from Seattle to DC was OK until the storms hit on the afternoon of the 28th. We were one of the last planes allowed to touch down before the torrents let loose. Planes after us were told to circle around or return to their origin, as it was impossible to land for the next 1-2 hours. That, unfortunately, affected the plane that was to be our connector to Montreal. It was leaving somewhere in North Carolina and it tried twice to land, could not, so returned back home. Which left us without a plane and thus our flight was cancelled.

The new Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horton at the reception

The new Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horton at the reception on Ile Bizard

We didn’t know it was cancelled until mid-evening. Veeka and I had packed lightly, so we had our suitcases with us. We had taken refuge in a United Club, as my credit card gives me 2 free tickets a year. We had just arrived when Veeka remembered she’d forgotten her IPad on the plane from Seattle, so the Club folks called over to the gate to track it down. Our plane had left the gate but a kind person had found and left the IPad at the gate podium, so we got it back. Those clubs are wonderful: Free wine, food, copies of decent newspapers, a bevy of travel agents plus one can just leave one’s stuff sitting there and no one will take it. The Houston club was a real lifesaver when V and I had a 7-hour layover on our way back from Minnesota last year.
Anyway, when we returned to our gate for the delayed Montreal flight, the United employee there was totally clueless and didn’t know the flight was cancelled until passengers confronted her with texts they were getting from Expedia saying it was no more. The lines in front of the customer service desk (to re-book) were quite long, so we returned to the Club where the agents there found us a way there Friday morning. However, we had to leave out of National and take connecting flights through Newark and Quebec City. There were lots of miserable people in line with us trying to get to Montreal, so we were lucky to get that. United put us up for the night at a Hyatt for a reduced rate (if you can call $105 reduced). I thought of calling (my brother) Rob and Jan, but it was really pouring plus Dulles is quite far from where they live in Maryland. Plus, we had an early flight the next day, or so I thought. So we just took a shuttle to the Hyatt 30 miles away in Crystal City, which was quite lovely.

Veeka, dressed in her finest black lace dress, the flower girl and other kiddos after the wedding.

Veeka, dressed in her finest black lace dress, the flower girl and other kiddos.

We had just gotten to our room and I had opened my email when I got a note from United saying the first leg of my flight out of National was cancelled. I nearly hit the ceiling, so got back on the phone. The first agent I got on the line (after 30 minutes of waiting) got disconnected from me. Called again and waited another 30-40 minutes. The new agent then told me a new flight had magically appeared and it left from Dulles at 9:45 a.m. – direct to Montreal. So we got back to Dulles at the crack of dawn, got the flight and everything (the rental car, our hotel) went well. But it reminded me to NOT fly through Washington, DC on a summer afternoon, as thunderstorms are nearly daily there and airports get shut down a lot.
We spent the day after the wedding wandering around Carrefour Laval, a large mall north of Montreal and got enamored with Second Cup, Canada’s answer to Starbucks. Then, to Veeka’s delight, we spent several hours with Laurie’s family, as Laurie’s sister and brother-in-law are the godparents to my daughter. The Vuoto family has a house in the Montreal area that the Vuoto sisters have access to and Veeka got to spend the afternoon next to their pool. Then we headed to Quebec City for the night, as I had visited there when I was 8 and I wanted Veeka to see it. It was a 3-hour drive.

Veeka in Quebec's lower city. Notice the Chateau Frontenac on the hill behind her.

Veeka in Quebec’s lower city. Notice the Chateau Frontenac on the hill.

On Monday morning, our hotel shuttle deposited us next to the Chateau Frontenac, the iconic landmark that dominates Quebec’s Old City. We then took the funicular to the lower city, rode back up, wandered about the terrace in front of the chateau, then walked along the Promenade des Gouverneurs, traipsed about the Plains of Abraham and saw two museums. So we are very much up on the French-British conflicts of 1759-60, the stories of Generals Wolfe and Montcalm and how the British scaled the cliffs to defeat the French. I was constantly pointing out to Veeka the cliffs that the invaders had to climb up, as they are massive. I didn’t realize that France was given a choice as to either give up Canada or the French Indies to the UK and they chose to give up Canada. That rates as one of the stupider real estate deals in history comparable to Russia selling off Alaska.
For lunch, we found a cute little place, L’Omelette on 66 Rue St. Louis, where the help gave us a lovely table by the window where we could see everything happening on the street. It’s just what we needed after walking on cobblestones all morning. It was killer hot that day, so we came back to hotel and jumped in the hotel pool. (Pools are essentially a non-negotiable in Veeka’s mind.) Later that day, we took Boulevard Champlain, which takes one along the Quebec waterfront; a very pretty route that I’d never seen before. We stopped by the Montmorecy falls (lit in bright colors at night), then drove to the Ile d’Orleans, about 10 miles north of Quebec. We went to La Goéliche, a restaurant overlooking the St. Lawrence River on the southern tip of the island. It was quite pretty seeing the night lights of Quebec across the river. So wished we had an extra day to see the Île, as it looked quite lovely. Am not sure when, if ever, I’ll be back there. This was my 4th visit, but at least Veeka got to see the place. Tuesday was taken up with driving back to Montreal (note: if you have a rental car, do not count on finding gas stations close to the Pierre Trudeau airport at which you can fill up your gas tank), then flying interminably back to Vancouver, then Seattle. At least I got to watch the movie “The Martian,” which I liked a lot!

My little one on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a fantastic walk overlooking the Quebec waterfront.

My little one on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a fantastic walk overlooking the Quebec waterfront and the St. Lawrence River.

Whizzing through the snow

As the snow falls on Cleo, the Ewing's affable kitty, their chalet is in the background. Dick made it basically by hand and it took years for it all to come together.

As the snow falls on Cleo, the Ewing’s affable kitty, their chalet is in the background. Dick made it basically by hand and it took years for it all to come together.

For years, I’ve wanted to go cross-country skiing in the largest cross-country ski area in North America and this past MLK weekend, we did so. It was a 238-mile drive over 2 mountain passes to Winthrop, Wash., home of the Methow Trails in the beautiful Methow Valley in north-central Washington. To get there from Seattle, it’s about five hours with a short dinner break. And of the 120 miles of trails that exist there, I only scratched the surface. I’d advise anyone going up there, however, to have some kind of traction tire and fortunately I had my Firestone Blizzaks from spending last year in Fairbanks (where one MUST have snow tires).
We were spending 3 nights with longtime friends Pam and Dick Ewing, who moved to the area 30 years ago. I’ve stayed at their gorgeous log home many times and this was Veeka’s third stay there. We’d always come in warmer months, so this was a first. But winter is high tourist time up there. When we showed up the next morning at the ski rental place in neighboring Mazama, it was packed with folks from Seattle. Like us. We learned later that Saturday was their busiest day EVER renting out skis. We hit one of the loop trails just to warm up. Now Dick *teaches* cross-country skiing so it was great to hear some of his tips on how to correct what I was going wrong. Veeka had taken lessons last year in Fairbanks, so she kept up a fairly good pace. I was OK until I tried to go downhill and ended up falling backward. One problem with these skis is it is very hard to get UP off the ground when you’ve fallen and especially if you’ve a frozen shoulder like I do. We recovered afterwards with Mexican hot chocolate at the Mazama General Store, a lovely place in the woods that sells pretty things and great food.
On Sunday, we tried a trail through the forest. I think I did a face plant at one point. Dick

This was near the end of our first day and Veeka was getting tired, so Dick thought up a cool way of towing her back to the car.

This was near the end of our first day and Veeka was getting tired, so Dick thought up a cool way of towing her back to the car.

had waxed my skis, which made things even more interesting. It was showing hard, which made the abundant snow even fresher. Veeka, whose Kazakh heritage includes some snow in her blood, adores winter weather and spent a lot of her free time running around Pam and Dick’s 5 acres on the edge of town. There were so many other places to try, but we only had 2 full days and believe me, I was even more tired after the second day. Am very out of shape….
Other than that, it has been a quiet month. Veeka has joined a local Girl Scout troop that meets in a neighborhood of $1.3 million homes. The meeting spot has some of the best views of the Seattle area I have ever seen, as it’s atop Cougar Mountain. Veeka walked into the home, saw the gorgeous views and just shrieked with happiness.

One of the weird contraptions at the Chihuly.

One of the weird glass contraptions at the Chihuly museum.

A few weekends before, we visited the Space Needle which she didn’t like because of the height but the view was great. We also saw the Chihuly Garden next to the Space Needle. The Chihuly is a killer collection of cool glass sculptures with brilliant colors and exotic shapes that I’d never seen. And I’d not been atop the Space Needle in decades. We then drove up Queen Anne hill to get more views and again, I think it was the first time I’d even driven up there.
Other than that, the one event of note was that my parents finally bought an iPhone so they are now officially in the 21st century! Of course it’s been a tough go in terms of them learning how to work the thing so I tell them that it took me 4 months to figure out how to operate my Apple laptop back in the fall of 2006.
Job-wise, things are not looking up at all. One website contacted me about working nearly full time for them doing writing and editing out of my home, which seemed ideal. We were several steps into negotiations and everything seemed like a go and then they disappeared into the ether. Fortunately, an old friend contacted me recently to ask for help in writing his book. I’ve been asked this sort of thing before by friends who expect me to do many hours of line editing for free, so I told him my hourly rate and that I simply could not give away my talents any more. He was willing to pay it, so I’ve been spending much of January working on his manuscript. I have really enjoyed it and wish there was a way to get more work like that.

Pam and Veeka playing in the snow.

Pam and Veeka playing in the snow.

Settling in Issaquah

Veeka waiting for her school bus

Veeka waiting for her school bus.

We’ve been in our new apartment almost 3 weeks in Issaquah, a town in the foothills of the Cascades that is best known for its Salmon Days festival where the salmon swim up the local creek to the area around the hatchery to spawn and then die. We live near the creek and it’s quite the sport to stand there and watch the fish splashing their way up the river. Some 150,000 people will arrive in town that first weekend in October for it.
The town is laid out in a way that makes it one big traffic jam from 3-7 pm each day with schools letting out and then the commuters driving home from Seattle. I didn’t have Internet for awhile, which is why I was camping out a lot at the local library and at various Starbucks around town. In comparison to Fairbanks, which had no free-standing Starbucks stores, this region has one on almost every corner.

Veeka relaxing with her first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt, which is to say Lindsay's son. They don't live far from us.

Veeka relaxing with her first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt, which is to say Lindsay’s son. They don’t live far from us.

One night, we were eating at Five Guys, a popular hamburger franchise that’s gone nationwide (although I remember patronizing the original Five Guys off of Rt. 7 in northern Virginia 20 years ago). I’d noticed a homeless guy standing at the corner near the restaurant, so after we ate, we took our (uneaten) bag of fries to this man, who looked very harmless and about 20 years old, to where he was standing. He had just taken our bag when Veeka shrieked, “Mommy, police!”
And sure enough, across the street were three police officers walking toward us. They ignored us and approached the panhandler, said they had a warrant to arrest him for drug dealing and handcuffed him right there. We slunk off and returned to our apartment, where I let Veeka wander about the grounds of the school across the street. Pretty soon, however, two police cars pulled up near Veeka who ran back toward me as I came out of the apartment. A teenager who was hanging around the area walked up to the officers; I later learned she was 16 years old and had called the police on us, as she’d seen Veeka wandering about alone and she thought that was dangerous.

To give Veeka something to do, I've taken her places like the Japanese garden near the University of Washington.

To give Veeka something to do, I’ve taken her places like the Japanese garden near the University of Washington.

Now the part of town we live in is very quiet and off the beaten path. One of the officers saw me and recognized me, as he’d been one of the guys arresting the panhandler! I was beyond annoyed that this young woman hadn’t bothered to ask Veeka where her mother was, as Veeka could have told her I was watching her out our window. This happens a lot, I’ve found; people don’t bother to ask basic questions but assume the worse and call the police on you! Of course the officers and I had a nice conversation and they said it’s unusual for a kid just to be wandering about alone. Most kids have someone with them. We don’t have that luxury in that we know no one here and no one has really befriended us. But I do wonder about some of the locals. Like someone just posted a note on my door complaining about some things I had done with the cardboard boxes from us moving in. I hadn’t stacked them right in the condo recycling center, it seems; however some of the things this person accused me of, I didn’t do! This is such a sign of the times and how impersonal things can be. People hide behind their cell phones and never go out and talk with people, nor check to see if their crazy assumptions are correct.
So last weekend, I went down to Portland for a day to meet with a group of friends I’ve known for some 35 years and spend time with them. It was lovely to be with people to whom I didn’t have to explain myself nor Veeka. Other than that, am treading water on several fronts. My father is doing better, thank God. But the job hunt is going very slowly. My book on serpent handlers that I worked so hard on hasn’t gotten accepted by any publisher and my agent has tried quite a few. The religious market where I’ve sold my previous four books doesn’t want to touch this one with a 10-foot pole, because, as one explained to the agent, there’s no spiritual “take away” to the book. In other words, no clear moral or happy ending. Sigh – do these folks get what real life is about? And I thought there were many moral lessons in my narrative. But the secular outlets aren’t biting either, which frustrates us a lot, as I got tons of hits when I wrote about the same folks for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Plus, the advance from this book was what I’d counted on to support me this fall while I’m in between jobs.

The Bangladesh satellite group + guests: The men in the back starting on the left are Jamie Dall, Leo Franz and Tim Forsyth. The middle row, from left, includes Judy Shrader, Karen Forsyth and Becky Franz. The bottom row, from left is Gail Dall, me and Bettie Mitchell

The Bangladesh satellite group + guests at the Franz homestead north of Portland: The men in the back starting on the left are Jamie Dall, Leo Franz and Tim Forsyth. The middle row, from left, includes Judy Shrader, Karen Forsyth and Becky Franz. The bottom row, from left is Gail Dall, me and Bettie Mitchell. Everyone in this photo looks decent except for moi, who looks half asleep.

So we live in interesting times. I’m still amazed when I walk into stores here and see bananas for 19¢ a pound whereas they were 99¢ a pound in Fairbanks. I still miss Alaska, though. Fairbanks just got snow last week, which was 3 weeks earlier than last year, when it didn’t snow until Oct. 4. I miss the beauty and the lack of crowds. I miss the friendliness and the freewheeling spirit there. I’m glad I turned down a possible job at the University of Oregon to go up there last year. And I’m glad I’m not in Eugene this year. It feels so much better to be only 14 miles from my parents and close to the mountains.
I settled in an area where I was sure there’d be kids playing outside. But in the afternoons, there are none. Do they all sit inside and watch TV? So my daughter is very lonely. I take her to an Awana club on Wednesday evenings but finding playmates is a work in progress.

Sunny Oregon and Portland coffee

The latte at Either/Or

The latte at Either/Or

Yes, I know that sounds odd, but the sun really is out here. I’d been planning for a long time this June trip to Oregon to see friends and visit places, so Veeka and I got on a plane Tuesday and came out here. We had to change flights twice and miraculously my luggage made it. We stayed with my brother Steve and his wife, Nancy, and spent 4 days running around. At that point, it was raining every day so on went our winter clothes. First we visited old friends Becky and Leo Franz at their lovely home/farm in Warren, which is a good 30 miles northwest of Portland. Hadn’t touched base in awhile, so it was good to do so.
One day I spent with an old Lewis & Clark College chum – Nayan Fleenor – as we went out to tea at a lovely lavender farm in Helvetia – 15 miles west of Portland, I am guessing. The tea/lunch was great but the weather was breezy and cold. Meanwhile, Veeka’s cousin Christina took her to the Children’s Museum near the zoo. Christina and her sister live in a section of town known as the Pearl District – which is Portland’s answer to Georgetown (as in Washington, DC) although far more bohemian.

Veeka and her cousin Christina

Veeka and her cousin Christina

I was also testing out Portland’s famous coffee shops. So far, I’ve only gotten to visit two. one was Either/Or, a small-ish neighborhood gathering spot in Sellwood (where I lived for a year when I was first out of college) that served up baguette sandwiches with local butter and ham and other goodies. The latte I had was fine and my companion said the mocha she tried was superb. Decor was intimate with only a few chairs and tables; only odd part: the place closes at 3:30 pm.
The other spot was Cathedral Coffee in St. Johns near the University of Portland and not far from Cathedral Park. The employees told me the place was named after the park plus it’s a gathering spot for an evangelical, full-Gospel Christian group that meets there at 7 pm Tuesdays. I then noticed the folksy music being played there was Christian in nature. Funky, full of light, the place has paintings of the Oregon coast on the walls and the lattes come in huge ceramic saucers. Our table was an old railroad trestle and there were tons of books to pick up and read. They cheerfully made Veeka “sweet” iced tea after the beverage she loves in the South.

Veeka on the beach at Reedsport with a homeless balloon.

Veeka on the beach at Reedsport with a homeless balloon.

Other days were filled with visits to the Bishop’s Close also near L&C and yesterday a trip to the beach! Yes, we drove south on I-5 to Cottage Grove, then out to Reedsport where the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area was. The day was filled with gorgeous vistas of coastal scenes as we drove and stopped in towns like Bandon (which had tons of beach access), Coos Bay (where we discovered Kaffe 101, a great coffee place stocked with Christian books), Gold Beach (where the gas was sure expensive) and Brookings, where we finally stopped for the night. The coast was miles of sun-flecked seas with rock islands in the water not far from the beaches. It got more ‘sauvage’ south of Port Orford where there were more overlooks high above the beaches, some of which were too dangerous to walk on. The sand was a white-flecked brown and all afternoon we traipsed from one park to another, jumping out to look at all these gorgeous viewpoints of blue sea, blue sky and tons of madronas and sea plants and pine trees – such a welter of beauty.

One of the many beautiful rock formations along the southern Oregon coast.

One of the many beautiful rock formations along the southern Oregon coast.

The whole coastal route is fabulous for biking as well. I had not been in this area for decades – was there in high school and may have revisited the area in 1981 but I’m not sure. But it’s been quite a long while. Veeka of course did not want to leave as we never get to see beaches where we live now. She went through three changes of clothes in as many hours as she kept on getting herself sopping wet running into the surf. And I was putting as many photos as I could onto Instagram so my friends and contacts could be envious! Then today (as I write this) we drove from Brookings north along Rt. 199 through the redwoods. along a river and through Cave Junction to Grants Pass, where I met up with friends Gail Dall and Karen Forsyth and daughter Christine. Gail, Veeka and I drove south to Ashland where we saw “A Wrinkle in Time,” which is one of the plays the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is doing this season. We all enjoyed it immensely and Veeka understood the storyline as I’d read the book outloud to her. Hadn’t been to Ashland in eons. Later, Karen and Christine showed up with a picnic lunch and we all sat at a picnic table in a nearby park and enjoyed the splashing brook, the kids playing, the perfect, sunny weather and great conversation.

The lovely north Cascades

Veeka at the Lake Diablo lookout on the North Cascades highway

Veeka at the Lake Diablo lookout off the North Cascades highway in northwest Washington state.

We’ve been home almost a week now and our last kitty, Serenity, hasn’t eaten in three days. I thought we’d have to say goodbye to her, but the vet says she just has a urinary tract infection, so has at least one of her nine lives left. We shall see. She turned 21 last month. She began as a stray kitten that one of my fellow seminarians asked me to take on back in 1992. She was found in October and the temps were going down to freezing that night, I was told, so would I be able to give her a warm place to stay? I was not planning on taking on another kitty but I felt so bad for this little critter who seemed too weak to take more than a few steps. On a hunch, I took her to the vet in Sewickley and they told me she had a hole in her diaphragm so would need surgery. The person who had found her kindly paid the vet bill and so the kitten came back a few days later bouncing around and able to breathe. I knew no one would take a kitten who had a post-surgery shaved tummy, so I decided to keep her until her hair grew back – and that was the fall of 1992. She’s still with me. The vet said he rarely sees cats this old.
The second half of our tour took us to a place in eastern Washington I visit every few years: The home of Pam and Dick Ewing in Winthrop. I think they moved there maybe 30 years ago and built a magnificent log cabin where I stay. I so love the slant of the early evening sun on the fields

Veeka at Blue Lake

Veeka at Blue Lake

surrounding their home and the early morning light and the hot air balloons that float about. First, the drive there is spectacular. Just seeing the Picket Range, for starters. At the Diablo Lake overlook, it was 79 degrees at about 6 pm and you’re talking a good 5,000 feet up at that point. So, it was balmy at high altitudes. When I was in the region in 2006, Dick and I hiked up the Early Winter Spires, a very steep hike that led to an awesome precipice overlooking Washington Pass. Next to us was a huge block of stone known as the Liberty Bell. On the way to the Spires is the glacier-fed Blue Lake, so Dick and I and Veeka went on a 4 1/2 mile hike up to that lake. It was truly lovely albeit rather cold to swim in. I so loved being among the trees and up so high and among tall mountains with their high green valleys. Other than complaining non-stop about bugs, Veeka did pretty well, although one-quarter of the way down, she insisted on hitchhiking on Dick’s back which he swore was not a burden at all. I was a bit cross with her as we were headed down at that point. In all, it was wonderful to be there and see old friends who I don’t get to see that often and to let Veeka run around in the fields without worrying where she’s end up. Eventually we had to leave, so we drove back past Lake Chelan (of course we took a short swim), stopped at the Aplets and Cotlets factory in Cashmere and drove through Leavenworth, where Veeka snagged a free nutcracker doll from the Nutcracker Museum. She was beyond entranced.
Eventually we got back to Oma and Opa’s where we did things like visit the Seattle Aquarium (overpriced, we thought), drop by some restaurants on Capitol Hill and go raspberry picking. For years, I’ve never been in Washington state at the same time the raspberries are out, so it was

Oma picking raspberries with Veeka.

Oma picking raspberries with Veeka.

wonderful to wander through the patch and snack to my heart’s content. But all good things must end and back we flew, mainly for Veeka’s school which began today (Aug. 2). She’s happy to be in second grade, but hasn’t been too impressed with her class so far. And the bus system is beyond dysfunctional. Kids in our neighborhood are the first to be picked up (before 7 a.m.) and the last to be dropped off (past 4 p.m.) so it’s a long day if you take the bus coming and going. Which is why I drive her to school, as she needs that extra hour of sleep. One calls the bus garage and does not get calls returned and no one ever seems to know where my daughter’s bus actually goes. Eventually she gets delivered to me, but the times vary widely. However, I don’t feel like sitting in the car pick-up line after school, so the afternoon bus will be our cross to bear.

Spring break, part II

Veeka is perched by the toilet seats at the entrance to Le Tub.

Veeka is perched by the toilet seats at the entrance to Le Tub.

I left off with arriving in Hollywood, Fla., to stay at the Ocean Inn, a funky place along the Intracoastal (which is a waterway) and about one block from the beach. The owner was a young Russian in her early 20s; long blond hair with a delightful accent to whom, I learned later, her parents gave this hotel as an investment. Russian money has been pouring into south Florida for some time and now they’re buying up places in south Broward County, my old haunt. We met an old friend, Julie Kay, who look us to this delightful Italian bistro and then for lunch the next day we ended up at Le Tub, a world class hamburger joint that Oprah and others have patronized. Amazing what you find in Hollywood these days; the place used to be the dreggy no-man’s land between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, so it’s come up in the 30 years since I lived there.

Veeka enjoying the sun on a sunny March morning in Hollywood.

Veeka enjoying the sun on a sunny March morning in Hollywood.

After that, we repaired to a city beach off Johnson Street and relaxed away the afternoon until we had to climb into the rental car and take off for West Palm Beach where we were to stay a few nights with Debbie Maken and her family. She showed us some lovely gardens in the city that I had not seen yet and of course we had to drive by the homes of some of the rich and famous plus visit The Breakers and of course Worth Avenue. Such lovely things for sale – problem is that most of the womens clothing was of silk and from sad experience, I’ve learned that silk is not the best investment for hot weather, saris notwithstanding. But it was nice to look. Worth Avenue is one of the last places in America where people actually dress up to go shopping and we saw lots of people all decked out in gorgeous clothes.

The dog walkers of West Palm Beach

The dog walkers of West Palm Beach

One thing I could not get over were the folks who had their poodles (and other small dogs) in *strollers* out to take the air, I suppose. Never saw any of those dogs jump down and take a piddle. Still could not resist taking one picture of ladies with their dogs.It was nice for Veeka to be with Debbie’s girls – finally someone her age – to play with and the following day, we were up in North Palm Beach sunning ourselves and making sand angels. My foot was still bound up in a cast so I could not go swimming, but Veeka was happy to splash about in the surf. The next morning, we went on an egg hunt at the Maken’s church, and then we were off back to Orlando to catch our plane. One thing we were able to do before we left is have lunch with another old friend and former roommate: Cheri duMee, who I’d not seen in a decade. We are both employed now by Baptist colleges, as she works at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Strange how things turn out.

Veeka and friends making sand angels in North Palm Beach

Veeka and friends making sand angels in North Palm Beach

Easter itself was low-key. We went to church, then had a quiet day at home. A few things I got to do during vacation was watch “Avatar,” a movie I’d never seen. Now I know why there was so much ferment about the movie four years ago in blogs such as this one. I just loved the beauty of the landscapes and the music so I didn’t get too upset about the pagan underpinnings because I felt that whoever makes the movie gets to spin the world view. There’s nothing stopping the evangelical Christian world from making something just as good from C.S. Lewis’ “Perelandra” space trilogy or Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow” and “Children of God.” I also got to read Mark Joseph’s The Lion, The Professor and the Movies, about the making of the three Narnia movies and the mis-steps made by the films’ makers. Kind of sad now that Walden has lost the Narnia franchise and the chance of getting the other four Narnia movies made at this point is close to zero.

Frolicking in the surf.

Frolicking in the surf.

And I read William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, an account of how Christians are vanishing from the Middle East and a history of what Byzantium was like from 300-600 AD. I never knew that Palestine back then was honeycombed with monks’ caves and how overwhelmingly Christian lands like Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt were back then. And how persecution by Muslims and (in Israel) Jews are emptying these lands now. It was a lot more enjoyable than the History Channel’s “The Bible” series that I just finished watching tonight. It felt very low budget to me and I wished they had ended the last part with a breathtaking vision of Revelation rather than John simply watching Jesus vanish into the horizon.

Visiting Disney World

Veeka and Minnie Mouse

Veeka and Minnie Mouse

Veeka had been nagging me about visiting DisneyWorld (watching Disney Channel on cable will do that to you as they run non-stop commercials extoling a visit to this place), plus I had wanted to get out of Jackson for spring break. And so I decided to treat her to three nights in Orlando, as I myself had not been to this resort in 30 years. And lots has changed. I got here in the spring of 1983, shortly after I moved to south Florida. Epcot had just been built, so there were very few buildings encircling the lake plus we were on a treeless plain. Thirty years later, Epcot is ringed by trees and gardens and when we were there Monday, it felt like another planet.

The Little One in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom a few hours before the typhoon hit.

The Little One in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom a few hours before the typhoon hit.

Our first stop Sunday morning (yes we did skip church) was of course to the Magic Kingdom, the most crowded and oldest of the Disney properties. After letting Veeka admire the castle, we headed off for various rides, including a new Ride Under the Sea for the Little Mermaid. Because of my broken foot, I was in an ECV, a moveable wheelchair that got us to the front of the line several times. In fact, we’ve not been in a regular line the whole time we’ve been here thanks to the ECV. We rode Dumbo (a letdown of a ride), visited It’s a Small World, visited the Disney princesses (Cinderella, Rapunzel and the Sleeping Beauty) in the Town Square Theater, met Minnie and Mickey somewhere and…you get the idea. A lot of things were either too cold to do (ie Splash Mountain) or Veeka was too scared to do. We had just gotten to Frontierland to eat lunch, when a typhoon hit the area and sheets of rain came pouring down. The downpour – and it was a huge one – kept us in the restaurant another hour. Afterwards, I got Veeka a Cinderella wand, which cheered her up a bit but set me back $20.

Veeka and Belle from Sleeping Beauty

Veeka and Belle from Sleeping Beauty

Which is the Disney story, it appears; getting parents to spend lots of money, even on those ridiculous autograph books that kids need for the characters to sign. Must say the characters have lovely handwriting! Sunday night, we had dinner with a friend, Kevin Flynn, who I had known 30 years earlier when we both lived in Hollywood. Now he’s hitting 60 and a lawyer while I’m not too many years behind him and have switched from journalism to academia. We both wondered how often one can reinvent oneself and we decided: Once every 20 years.

My kiddo getting an autograph from Cinderella

My kiddo getting an autograph from Cinderella

Even though I came to the park equipped with The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2013, it was obvious that we would miss quite a few things, either because we didn’t get there early enough or we just didn’t have the energy or desire to do them. Another time, I guess. Our next day at Epcot was far more pleasant. Although colder, thanks to a late snowfall that hit the upper East Coast (Washington DC got snow on March 25, the latest I’ve ever heard it happen. When I lived there, I never saw snow after March 15), the weather was in the 60s while at Epcot, meaning we really had to bundle up. I’d brought all summer clothes down here – not the best decision as it’s turned out. Anyway, our visit there was much more fun for me. Veeka got to meet Mulan and Aladdin and Jasmine – after that, she got sick of standing in lines, so passed up a chance to say hi to Alice in Wonderland – while we wandered through the various pavilions and later in the afternoon sat on the grass while she practiced cartwheels and somersaults. I talked her into staying late to see the light show over the water and she was delighted to find out that fireworks were not so scary after all. So in all, it was a good night, especially after I bought her a Cinderella dress, which will be her Halloween costume for the next zillion years.

Veeka and Mulan

Veeka and Mulan

Our last day there was miserable. We spent it at Animal Kingdom, which was crowded to the gills. All the crowds we seemingly missed on Sunday and Monday had arrived with a vengeance by Tuesday and we could barely push through the mobs. We enjoyed the Kilimanjaro safari ride but got soaked during the Kali water rapids ride to the point we were too miserable to remain in the park, especially with temps in the low 60s. So we exited, taking 45 minutes to locate the Florida turnpike, then hoofing it to Hollywood (where I used to live ages ago just north of Miami) in three hours. We met up with an old friend, Julie Kay from my Sun-Tattler days, at an Italian bistro on the Intracoastal, then repaired to a funky hotel on A1A, the Ocean Inn, for the night. Today (Wednesday) is gorgeous Greek-Mediterranean-style blue skies outside, so we’re headed to the beach.

Early February picnic

TNflagEvery so often, there comes a moment when I know I am no longer in Maryland. Such was tonight, when I went to a reception sponsored by some folks at my new church. A visiting speaker from South Africa was there talking about how professionals can help the poor. His name is Craig Stewart, from Capetown and his ministry is called the Warehouse. We gathered at the largest and perhaps the loveliest home I have seen yet here in Jackson and I’ve toured a few really nice ones. The couple who lived here had so many bedrooms, I lost count, not to mention the art studio and pool, three verandas and treehouse out back. It being in the low 60s, everyone sat outside on the patio. I was one of a clutch of women seated by an outdoor fireplace – with blazing fire – while others sat in chairs by the snack and drink tables. This being a gathering of Anglicans, naturally there was plenty of wine – and even Kentucky bourbon – to be had. Veeka, by the way, was inside watching TV. In Maryland, I can see sitting outside maybe as early as April, but definitely not in early February, yet here we were, me wearing a light cape, seated al fresco. Two weeks ago also on a Friday night, we were at another gathering, this one east of town and, the night being cold, we were indoors. It was a large crowd of musicians mostly of the country music and Elvis variety, although some of the fiddlers could do some good Celtic stuff, Someone had brought a harp and I really tried to play along, but I was nowhere near fast enough to keep up. Some of the folks there were college professors, other were retired and others worked in blue collar jobs doing I-forget-what, but it was a super nice group of people. Veeka wanted to borrow peoples’ violins, but naturally no one was too eager for her to experiment on their instruments. I need to find her a small guitar, as she really likes those.
Anyway, that gathering too was one of those soirees that would not have happened in Maryland. Things here seem more artless, less wary and less hemmed in by the craziness of living in a metro area of 4 million+ people. All of Madison County is 100,000 souls at the most. And enclosed here is a second video I got from my video class of Miss Veeka. Titled “The Scooter,” it’s a very amateur arrangement of her on her new Christmas toy to the tune of the Russian dance in the third act of “Swan Lake.” I have always loved that dance and as you watch the video, a lot of what Veeka does kind of goes with the music. I shot this on my iPhone – on iMovie – on my computer at work. I had fun making it, although iMovie is a lot harder to operate than one would think. Sadly, the tree she is shown climbing in the film had the lowest branch cut off soon afterwards. I have this funny feeling someone saw her climbing the tree  – and me filming her – and spitefully wanted to make the tree  impossible to climb. The next time Veeka saw that tree- and the missing branch –  she set off a huge wail as to now she can no longer climb it. Our neighborhood had no other climbable trees, so I am in search of trees she can climb and read in, as I once did in Connecticut and so did her grandmother while growing up near Philadelphia.

Second week of Advent

Second candle lit

It’s been in the mid-30s the past two nights here so my banana plants outside are definitely fading away and I wore my winter coat for the first time today. And we’re lighting Advent candles; the second set during a pleasant visit by Estine Nwakwuo, a Catholic priest from Nigeria who began writing me nearly three decades ago when he and fellow seminarians discovered my “Purity Makes the Heart Grow Stronger” book. Estine and I had never met, so he happened to be in Oklahoma visiting another priest friend and the two of them drove 400 miles yesterday so Estine could see us. He had a lot of stories about what it’s like to work out of a parish in Zamfara State, which is in the heavily Muslim northern part of the country. Amazingly, he’s gotten through five years there alive! Then they drove back this morning – seven hours of driving on I-40.

Veeka and Estine

I’ve been thinking over what 2012 has been like and the second half of the year may have been the busiest in my life. There’s never been such a time when I had so much to do that had to be done right away and when there seemed to be one crisis after another that had to be tended to. Or huge things to get done, ie moving a household and starting a new job, not to mention an entirely new career. One task I took on in all this madness was getting my “Quitting Church” republished as an e-book with a different publisher that was willing to pay me better royalties. So, amidst everything else that needed to be done, I wrote an 11th chapter, an update if you will, as to what’s happened in the four years since “Quitting Church” came out. A lot of things, including the new cover, are still under wraps, but Bondfire Books, the publisher, just came out with this press release about me.

Cardinal & Cream Christmas party chez moi

Other than that, I’ve hung up Christmas lights in front of the house, made a batch of Christmas cookies containing eggnog (which weren’t all that great, oddly) and gotten most of my shopping done. I attend a Christmas lunch on Thursdays at Veeka’s school. Finals at UU are this week and I gave one today. Now I have to grade it. I and the school newspaper assistant adviser met with the editor and managing editor today to discuss staffing for next semester. And the days keep on getting shorter with the sunset at 4:30 at this point.

Late-breaking news

Standing firm at 3600 New York Avenue

And in case I ever yearn for the life back in my old newsroom, here are two posts from MediaBistro about impending layoffs again at the Washington Times. The first is about the mess that Tom McDevitt is making of the whole place and the second has to do with the black humor that reporters have adopted to cope. If anyone cares to read this post from my blog entry on New Year’s Eve 2009 (aptly titled ‘Surviving the Massacre’) about 110 people getting laid off, you’ll quickly pick up the zeitgeist from tons of reporters being shown the door during the Christmas season. Obviously the Times’ management didn’t learn any lesson from the horrible PR it received for cutting so many people lose three years ago this month, so they are playing Ebenezer Scrooge again. MediaBistro says they’re monitoring peoples’ emails, which was not done when I was there. (Not that I know of, that is). I vaguely remember security being ramped up but I knew my job was safe, so I was a lot more careless than most, even walking outside to have my photo defiantly snapped in front of the Times’ building. And it sounds like the misery index this time is much, much higher. Because they’ve been through this how many times before? I remember in the spring of 2008 when a bunch of people – including my immediate boss – were let go and we were promised by John Solomon, the editor at the time, there’d be no layoffs, firings, what-have-you after that. Solomon only lasted another 18 months (although he was brought back this year as a consultant – no doubt a highly paid one) and all the editors since him have been sacked or pushed out in one form or another. As for the employees, I wish them well and hope they end up as well as I have, at a higher salary, mind you. And I wonder if the interior of the building is in as much disrepair as it was when I left. Hopefully they re-hired the exterminator to get rid of the snakes!